Why didn’t Putin interfere in Armenia’s Velvet Revolution? – Foreign Affairs

12:33 • 18.05.18



His Support for Authoritarianism Abroad Has Limits


By Lucan Ahmad Way


This April, Serzh Sargsyan, the pro-Russian autocratic leader of Armenia, confronted massive opposition protests reminiscent of the wave of “color revolutions” that took place in eastern Europe in the first decade of this century. Like past political revolutions in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2004, the protests in Armenia shut down the capital and drew heavily on disenchanted youth as well as humor to challenge entrenched autocratic elites.


Led by the former journalist and political prisoner Nikol Pashinyan, demonstrators sought to unseat Sargsyan and his Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which have dominated Armenian politics for nearly two decades. Sargsyan was first elected president in 2008, succeeding Robert Kocharian, who came to power in 1998. To sidestep Sargsyan’s impending term limit, the RPA orchestrated a transition from a presidential to a parliamentary system with the intention of selecting Sargsyan as prime minister. Sargsyan’s election to the position on April 17, however, sparked tens of thousands of people to take to the streets against his rule.


Such protests seemingly presented a fundamental challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is terrified by the potential diffusion of mass anti-dictatorial movements to his own country and has long been obsessed by the threat of “color revolutions” in the region. Partly as a result, he has a history of interfering to protect autocrats in Russia’s neighborhood. Putin backed the dictatorial Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who faced protests in Ukraine in 2013–14 and intervened in a wide range of elections throughout the region, including presidential elections in Belarus in 2006 and in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014. (And of course, Putin has also recently sought to disrupt the democratic process in the United States and Western Europe.)


Several Russian commentators worried that the Armenian protests were part of a Western conspiracy to foment student revolution at Russia’s doorstep and that the opposition might turn Armenia against Russia. Sargsyan has been a constant ally of Russia. In 2015, giving into Russian pressure, he brought Armenia into the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union. Russia in turn has long supported the Armenian government, providing subsidized natural gas as well as critical military assistance to Armenia in its three-decades-long conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh territory. Russia has 5,000 troops stationed in Armenia and helps to patrol the country’s border with Turkey. Given Russia’s stake in the regime and history of intervention in the region, one might have expected Putin to throw his full support behind Sargsyan and the RPA. Indeed, after Sargsyan was forced to resign in the face of protests on April 23, Russia initially worked behind the scenes to orchestrate a transfer of power to Karen Karapetyan, the former head of Russian-controlled Gazprom in Armenia. Russian-controlled media outlets began to label the protests “another maidan” directed by the West.


But when the RPA was unable to impose Karapetyan in the face of mass unrest, Putin was unexpectedly silent. Russian media halted its efforts to discredit Pashinyan, and Russian authorities did not try to pressure the Armenian authorities to use force against the opposition as they did in Ukraine in early 2014. After Pashinyan was elected prime minister on May 7 with the support of 13 defecting RPA deputies, Putin was among the first to congratulate him, even though, as a former political prisoner and protest leader, Pashinyan is pretty much the opposite of the kind of leader Putin typically likes to work with. What explains Russia’s apparent acceptance of the latest Eurasian revolution?


PUTIN'S PRIORITIES

 

To understand Putin’s behavior, it is important to correct several partial misconceptions about Russian foreign policy and its impact in the region. First, despite his reputation for autocracy promotion, Putin cares much more about the geopolitical balance of power than he does about whether countries outside of Russia are democratic or authoritarian. As a result, Putin has been extremely inconsistent in his support for autocrats outside Russia’s borders. (Within Russia is obviously another story.)


Russia has sought to undermine democracy in countries such as Ukraine that are dominated by anti-Russian forces. Putin has supported pro-Russian dictators confronting anti-Russian challengers, such as Ukraine’s Leonid Kuchma in 2004, Yanukovych in 2013–14, and Moldova’s Vladimir Voronin in 2009. But he has been equally happy to support competitive elections and even protests when such measures undermine anti-Russian governments. After Kyrgyzstan’s autocratic President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reneged on a promise in 2009 to deny the United States access to the Manas air base, the Russian government began airing negative stories about Bakiyev in Russian media in Kyrgyzstan and increased fuel prices—moves that helped spark protests that overthrew Bakiyev in April 2010. The Kremlin threw its support behind the much more democratic Presidents Roza Otunbayeva and Almazbek Atambayev. Similarly, Putin did nearly everything to undermine Georgia’s autocratic and anti-Russian President Mikheil Saakashvili and welcomed the democratic transfer of power from Saakashvili to Giorgi Margvelashvili in 2013. Putin is obviously no democracy promoter and, given the choice, would no doubt prefer to deal with other dictatorships. But there is little evidence that he is willing to make any serious effort to foster authoritarian rule for its own sake.


In Armenia, Putin’s acquiescence to Pashinyan was almost certainly facilitated by the fact that Pashinyan, in stark contrast to opposition in Ukraine in 2013–14, made a point of committing to maintain the geopolitical status quo. (This despite the fact that his small election bloc Yelq had earlier called for closer relations to Europe.) The protests saw no European Union flags or other signs indicating that the new forces would challenge the Russia’s regional dominance. Furthermore, Armenia’s vulnerable international position and dependence on Russian military support make it extremely costly for any Armenian leader to leave Russia’s orbit—a fact that likely contributed to Russia’s calm during the protests. Remittances from Armenians working in Russia account for a significant portion of Armenia’s gross domestic product. Russian companies control virtually all of the country’s energy supply. In a possible effort to highlight costs of altering Armenia’s orientation, Russian authorities recently warned that they could at any moment ban the import of Armenian fruits and vegetables.

 

Understanding the Kremlin’s behavior also requires correcting another common misconception about Russian foreign policy: that Putin is a grandmaster of external politics able to control political outcomes both in Russia’s neighborhood as well as in more powerful countries such as the United States. In fact, Putin may have acquiesced to Pashinyan because he felt that any attempt to save the RPA government would fail. Russian interventions, after all, have a relatively poor rate of success in the post Soviet region. In fact, the Kremlin’s favored candidate has lost in seven of the 11 documented cases of electoral interference since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2005, for example, Russia unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the reelection of the Communist Party in Moldova. And after Russia changed its mind and chose to support the communists in 2009, the party fell in the face of protests.


More significant, in 2004 in Ukraine, Putin invested enormous resources and his own prestige to support Ukrainian then Prime Minister Yanukovych’s presidential campaign. His actions, however, created a backlash and helped to spark the Orange Revolution, which led to Yanukovych’s downfall. A decade later, extensive Russian intervention was unable to prevent the rise to power of a stridently anti-Russian government in Ukraine. Although Putin has gained control over Crimea, Russia’s actions have permanently doomed any prospect of Ukrainian integration into Russia’s orbit and severely marginalized pro-Russian parties that used to dominate Ukrainian political life. Ukrainian support for the Eurasian Economic Union has dramatically declined since 2014. After Russia’s experience in Ukraine, Putin may have worried that openly backing an unpopular regime in Armenia would generate a similar popular backlash.

 

DEMOCRACY UNDER RUSSIAN HEGEMONY

 

Could recent events augur an emerging model of democratization under Russian external hegemony? By avoiding open challenges against Russian external policies, even small and dependent countries such as Armenia may be able to democratize without fear of interference. The relatively democratic and pro-Russian Kyrgyzstan, which saw a peaceful and competitive transfer of power in elections in late 2017, may represent another example. Such a model of course deprives countries of their rightful ability to choose external allies. But it is still preferable to a situation in which countries lack both external autonomy and internal democracy.


Ultimately, the fate of democracy in Armenia will hinge much more on domestic factors than on actions by Russia. Indeed, the failure of democracy in Russian-dominated countries has had far more to do with domestic factors in these countries than anything Russia has done. It is still unclear whether Pashinyan will move Armenia closer to democracy or continue the autocratic practices of the old ruling party. At the same time, there are several positive signs. First, Pashinyan, a former opposition journalist, is one of the few real outsiders to take power in the post-Soviet region where opposition leaders have typically emerged as defectors from the old autocratic regime. Furthermore, Pashinyan has almost no party organization to speak of and thus is likely to have trouble monopolizing control even if he wanted to. Finally, and perhaps most important, the old ruling RPA has promised to cede control of the government and to go into opposition. It is still not clear whether the party will remain intact or eventually be coopted by the new leadership. But Armenian democracy would be well served by a coherent and oppositional Republican Party that can present a check on the power of the new government.


There is overall little that Armenia or its post-Soviet neighbors can do to get rid of Putin or reduce Russia’s military and economic dominance in the region. But none of this prevents these countries from becoming democracies within their own borders.





Загрузка...

LATEST NEWSAll Today news

15:57 • 26/05

Armenia launches special education platform for new generation reforms

14:32 • 26/05

Nagorno-Karabakh reports relative calm on frontline

14:17 • 26/05

US, Turkey agree on road map over Syrian region

13:33 • 26/05

Prime Minister Pashinyan hosts Armenian school-leavers in special ceremony

12:35 • 26/05

EBRD pledges increased assistance to Armenia  

12:16 • 26/05

UK backs the decision to hold Russia liable for the downing of flight MH17

11:35 • 26/05

168 Zham: Russian analyst optimistic about US-mediated Pashinyan-Aliyev talks  

10:58 • 26/05

Armen Sarkissian meets with former Georgian prime minister in Tbilisi  

10:30 • 26/05

UN circulates Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Ministry memorandum

09:56 • 26/05

Fiat Chrysler recalling 4.8 million US cars

09:40 • 26/05

Irish back abortion reform

09:33 • 26/05

Deadly cyclone hits southern Oman

09:16 • 26/05

Harvey Weinstein released on $1m bail 

18:05 • 25/05

New privacy law forces US media offline in Europe

17:43 • 25/05

US marines prepare for helicopter evacuation of Hawaii's Big Island residents as a third lava flow from the Kilauea volcano streams into ocean

17:02 • 25/05

We want new cultural perceptions in Armenia – Nikol Pashinyan  

16:16 • 25/05

Harvey Weinstein arrested

15:56 • 25/05

Ex-Armenian envoy charged in Rolls-Royce bribery case in China

15:37 • 25/05

Electoral reforms should focus on participatory processes in Armenia - lawmaker

15:13 • 25/05

NBA champion on brink of NBA elimination with loss to Houston Rocket

13:58 • 25/05

Meghan Markle reportedly taking duchess lessons to please the queen

13:50 • 25/05

Russia liable for downing MH17 airliner

13:37 • 25/05

Popular YouTube star dies aged 33

13:28 • 25/05

Around 190 undocumented migrants captured in Turkey’s west

13:11 • 25/05

UK’s Johnson gets pranked by Russian callers pretending to be Armenian prime minister

12:43 • 25/05

Armenian premier calls for rapid steps ‘to halt wave of migration’

11:55 • 25/05

Pompeo: US, Turkey should avoid any clashes in northern Syria

11:41 • 25/05

North Korea says still open to talks after cancelation of Trump-Kim summit

11:28 • 25/05

Samsung ordered to pay Apple nearly $539m in damages in longstanding patent dispute

11:13 • 25/05

Asia’s first Armenian museum opens in Singapore

10:44 • 25/05

2018 will be ‘historic year’ for Armenia, says president

09:59 • 25/05

Harvey Weinstein to surrender to police

09:27 • 25/05

Morgan Freeman accused of sexual harassment

09:16 • 25/05

Putin, Macron discuss Iran’s withdrawal from nuclear deal

15:09 • 24/05

Russia demonstrated cautious stance on 'velvet revolution' in Armenia - analyst

14:41 • 24/05

Flags of Yerevan, Armenia sent to International Space Station  

13:11 • 24/05

Richard Gere confirmed for first major TV role in BBC drama

12:53 • 24/05

Israeli Knesset backs motion to recognize Armenian Genocide

12:39 • 24/05

US Sanator Portantino continues to champion Armenian community with important budget proposals

12:19 • 24/05

Hraparak: Armenia's political elite 'preparing for constitutional reforms'

11:52 • 24/05

168 Zham: Impact of EU-Armenia agreement to be fully tangible 'after complete ratification'

11:22 • 24/05

'Start Your Impossible': Toyota launches global campaign

11:03 • 24/05

Ucom subscribers to benefit from special roaming rate of 15 AMD/MB in 43 countries

10:41 • 24/05

Italian president names new cabinet leader

10:27 • 24/05

Iran nuclear deal: Khamenei lists demands for European countries

09:31 • 24/05

US expels Venezuelan diplomats amid escalating election raw

09:18 • 24/05

North Korea calls US Vice-President Mike Pence 'stupid'

17:44 • 23/05

Nikol Pashinyan hosts AGBU Central Board members

17:11 • 23/05

Pompeo might have pulled the plug on Armenian-Iranian trade - Eurasia Future

16:26 • 23/05

Pashinyan: IT sector 'key priority' for Armenian government

15:40 • 23/05

Arsenal names former PSG boss as successor to Wenger

15:26 • 23/05

Israeli Security Cabinet convening in underground bunker

15:14 • 23/05

British presenter dives to catch loose horse at Chepstow

15:00 • 23/05

Statistics reveals twofold increase in Armenian employment migrants' number in Russia

14:38 • 23/05

US to ease crisis-era banking rules

14:02 • 23/05

Armenian employee of Scottsdale takes $250K from jeweler before trip to homeland

13:47 • 23/05

Thomas de Waal: Karabakh peace process needs shaking up - but not too much  

12:06 • 23/05

Hraparak: Armenia's neighbors 'not content' with new National Security Council chief

11:35 • 23/05

Facebook apologizes for failure to 'prevent misuse'

11:17 • 23/05

Airstrikes neutralize PKK militants in Eastern Turkey

11:04 • 23/05

Soldier found dead in Armenian military post  

10:50 • 23/05

Iran says ‘will not seek’ permission from any power to develop weapons

10:38 • 23/05

Heatwave in Pakistan kills 65 people and leaves dozens passing out in the street

09:59 • 23/05

Philip Roth dies at 85

09:33 • 23/05

US Secretary of State Pompeo shares ANCA’s Enthusiasm about Armenia’s peaceful political Transition

09:10 • 23/05

Trump says summit with North Korea's leader may be delayed

17:51 • 22/05

Pope Francis extends support to gay men

17:43 • 22/05

Turkey to review ties with Israel

17:25 • 22/05

Armenian cabinet conducts special meeting  

16:57 • 22/05

US and Israel should recognize the Armenian Genocide - Bloomberg

16:34 • 22/05

Film on Syrian-Armenian refugees wins top prize in Sevastopol festival  

15:50 • 22/05

Serj Tankian warns against speculations over Armenian Genocide  

15:21 • 22/05

Armenian boxers win four medals in intn’l tournament

14:42 • 22/05

Artsakh’s participation in negotiations crucial for future peace – MFA spokesperson

13:51 • 22/05

Charlize Theron to star as Megyn Kelly in film about Fox News

13:44 • 22/05

Study into malaria genetics shows how disease became deadly

13:32 • 22/05

Meghan Markle's father is seen for first time since missing her wedding 

13:17 • 22/05

Trump goes rogue on phone security

13:08 • 22/05

Iran condemns US sanctions

13:00 • 22/05

UK turns blind eye to 'dirty Russian money'

12:32 • 22/05

No serious foreign policy changes should be expected in Armenia - Richard Giragosian

10:36 • 22/05

Zhoghovurd: Slowdown in Armenia’s economy ‘officially reported’ after 'velvet revolution'  

09:37 • 22/05

Turkish court to jail 104 ex-military for life in coup trial

09:28 • 22/05

Masked gunmen in Marseille open fire with automatic rifles

09:08 • 22/05

Japanese mountain climber dies on eighth attempt on Everest

18:05 • 21/05

No plans for ‘freezing credits’ discussed with government – Central Bank president

17:02 • 21/05

Ucom drops prices for more than 60 smartphones and launches iPhone 8 red sales

16:49 • 21/05

Explosion kills at least 2 in Azerbaijani capital

15:04 • 21/05

Taxation policies not profitable for mine exploiters in Armenia – environmentalist

13:41 • 21/05

Hillary Clinton trolls Trump with Russian hat during Yale commencement speech 

12:45 • 21/05

Georgia 'agrees to negotiate' Armenia-Russia trade corridor plan with Moscow  

12:10 • 21/05

Jenna Dewan rocks Chin-Length Bob at Billboard Music Awards after chopping off hair

11:58 • 21/05

Iran uses nuclear pact as bargaining chip with EU over US sanctions

11:13 • 21/05

Thessaloniki mayor beaten up

11:00 • 21/05

Former civic activist to head State Control Service

10:40 • 21/05

Man Utd 'can fight for Premier League & Champions League with right signings'

10:11 • 21/05

Beyoncé 'buys her own church' in New Orleans 

09:25 • 21/05

US Department of Justice to probe Trump campaign 'infiltration'

09:13 • 21/05

Venezuela: Maduro wins second term in controversial presidential election

19:38 • 19/05

“Renaissance” Foundation organized an event dedicated to well-known Armenian-American writer William Saroyan